Radio broadcasting marks its centennial anniversary this year: On Nov. 2, 1920, Pittsburgh’s KDKA aired the first radio news program, which delivered the results of the U.S. presidential election live to over 1,000 listeners. The new medium’s power was immediate, and its legacy as a money- and star-making machine has endured.
Each year, the Radio Hall of Fame, which is owned by and housed at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, honors those in the U.S. market who have contributed to radio’s development. Past inductees include Groucho Marx, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Garrison Keillor, Casey Kasem, Delilah, Wendy Williams, Bobby Bones and Ryan Seacrest.
This year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization will host its first virtual induction ceremony on Oct. 29 to honor the 2020 class. The two-hour program will be hosted by WHTZ (Z100) New York personality and 2015 inductee Elvis Duran, and broadcast live on terrestrial radio and streamed on the SiriusXM and iHeartRadio apps.
Like many entertainment industry institutions, the museum has taken a financial hit with the cancellation of the Hall of Fame’s annual black-tie event, which is its biggest of the year, according to chairman Kraig Kitchin, 59, and pays the museum’s annual “heating and lighting bills.”
“There are sponsors of the broadcast and of the published tribute book that are helping us replace the blow to our finances incurred by the absence of an inperson event,” says Kitchin, who has been involved as a volunteer and committee member since 2000. In 2014, he took the helm to succeed Bruce DuMont. “We’re honored by the support of previous inductees, current inductees, their sponsors and industry supporters [who have been generous with donations].”
Kitchin spoke with Billboard about the Hall of Fame’s voting process, representation efforts and his own on-air experience: “It’s much harder than it looks,” he says.
How did you get started in radio?
A long time ago, from 1980 to 1983 in Lansing, Mich., I worked [on-air] at WFMK [99.1 FM]. I stayed with that radio company [Townsquare Media] and became a general manager of one of their radio stations. I [got off] the air. I’m much better helping to organize people who are on the air than I am on the air. That’s a real talent that I came to appreciate very early on in my career: how hard it is to put yourself in a 12-by-12 room and entertain people for the next five hours. It’s much harder than it looks. I’ve since been so blessed to work with literally the most talented group of individuals the radio medium has ever known. When you see people who really do have the gift, you stand back and say, “I’m not worthy.”
What are your proudest achievements in your six years as chairman?
I’m very proud of the increased visibility that the Radio Hall of Fame has throughout the radio industry. It shows a respect for the process. We are giving really talented individuals their proper due and recognition. If there’s one thing that has happened in my tenure, [it’s that] we’ve seen a strong emergence of relevancy. We have made the voting process very transparent so that everybody understands how democratized the induction process is.
The other way I’ve had an impact is by recruiting members of the nominating committee and asking them to put their time, focus and energy into healthy debate and discussion about who were the most deserving nominees.
What does the voting process entail?
We gather hundreds of suggestions during the first eight to 12 weeks of the year from industry members and listeners alike. We have a 25-person nominating committee. Six or seven new individuals join each year and six or seven individuals retire, so there’s a continual evolution of new voices, faces and energy. That committee selects 24 nominations, 16 of which are put in front of a radio industry panel for a vote by confidential ballot, with four inductees chosen from the group of 16.
The remaining eight of the 24 nominees are voted upon by the listening public, with the top two nominees receiving a nominating committee vote. The nominating committee reconvenes to review the voting results and casts their votes among the same eight nominees, two of which have already earned a vote by receiving the greatest number of listening public votes. The same committee then reviews any other candidates for induction before concluding their duties.
Who sits on the panel?
There are about 600 people on our radio industry panel who are representative of a very large cross-section of professionals across every format, whether they’re playing top 40, country music, Spanish-language presentations or spoken word, which includes all-news, news/talk, public radio and sports talk. The nominating committee then picks four nominees in the music format and four nominees in spoken word who are voted on by the public. Each year we receive close to 600,000 votes, and the outcome of that popular vote counts as one vote on the committee.
After the industry and listeners cast their votes, the nominating committee comes together and asks if there are any other worthy individuals [to consider]. If the committee collectively votes 75% or greater for one or more persons, that individual or entity receives induction. This year, Donnie Simpson met that threshold.
The inductee lists have been more diverse in recent years than was previously the case. Has that been intentional?
That’s reflective of who the air personalities were in the first 50 or 60 years of our business versus who has been on the air in the last 30 or 35 years. It’s important to me to make sure that diversity of voices is properly reflected, which starts with having the right people on the committee.
You mentioned that half a dozen committee members exit each year. Are those difficult conversations?
I lead by example. I removed myself from the nominating committee this year and put myself in “emeritus” status so I could make room for other voices. I had the same conversation with six other committee members this year. Everybody gracefully accepted emeritus status.
Are there areas in which you’re looking to grow representation?
I’m very interested in seeing that public radio is more represented in the nominating process. The same is true in Spanish-language presentations and the Christian music format.
Tell us about your own company, Sound Mind.
It has been in business for 12 years. We manage the businesses of a dozen radio personalities and production companies. I don’t publicize the relationships, but I work behind the scenes to make sure that the careers of those that I work with and manage are highlighted.
Can you give us any names?
I am blessed to manage the businesses around programs for some of the most talented and wide-ranging group of individuals the radio medium has ever known. My longtime associations include Rush Limbaugh, Delilah, Jim Rome and George Noory. I work in Spanish-language radio as well with Alberto Sardiñas, who is a popular on-air personality at Univision [in Miami], and the producers working at The Mix Group and ReelWorld.
Would you say that your work with the Radio Hall of Fame is a way of giving back to the radio industry?
Oh, absolutely. That’s an important thing to do. If you don’t give back to an industry that’s 100 years old, you’re not going to make sure that it survives the next 100.
The Radio Hall Of Fame’s Class Of 2020
This year’s seven inductees span both on-air talent and radio programs, bringing the total number of hall of famers to 259.
Mark Thompson, 64, and Brian Phelps, 61, were longtime morning hosts at KLOS (95.5) Los Angeles. At its peak, The Mark & Brian Show was syndicated to 21 other markets in the western United States. Presenter: Donny Osmond.
Roberts, who died in 2019 at age 75, was a political reporter and analyst for National Public Radio and ABC News. Her parents, Hale and Lindy Boggs, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for a combined 44 years. Acceptor: Rebecca Roberts, daughter.
Martinez, 49, is a radio/TV personality, rapper, actress and New York Times best-selling author. Her 20-plus-year tenure at hip-hop stations WQHT (Hot 97) and WWPR (Power 105.1) gave her the nickname “the Voice of New York.” Presenter: Salaam Remi.
Hosted by DJ Envy, 43; Angela Yee, 44; and Charlamagne Tha God, 42, the R&B/hip-hop program is dubbed “the world’s most dangerous” morning show. The New York-based program airs in over 90 U.S. radio markets and is also televised by REVOLT. Presenter: Ray J.
The Oakland, Calif., native, 49, hosts Sway in the Morning on SiriusXM channel Shade 45 and MTV’s TRLAM. Sway was also the co-host of the nationally syndicated The Wake Up Show as half of the duo Sway & King Tech. Presenter: King Tech.
Beck, 56, is a conservative political commentator and radio/TV host and producer, whose talk show The Glenn Beck Program is syndicated on Premiere Radio Networks. Beck also founded news network TheBlaze. Presenter: Dom Theodore.
Simpson, 66, began his DJ career at Detroit’s WJLB, before relocating to Washington, D.C., where he hosted The Donnie Simpson Show at WPGC-FM, WKYS and WMMJ, as well as BET’s Video Soul and TV One’s Donnie After Dark. Presenter: Smokey Robinson.